The Parklands in Blistery Winter
The nicely weathered pickup truck had a yellow and blue Alaska license plate. Just in case they’re bank robbers we’ve blurred out the actual numbers.
The Alaska state motto – “THE LAST FRONTIER” – was spread across the bottom of the plate. The truck was parked at the Beckley Creek Park entrance just off Shelbyville Road, with no owner in sight.
The frigid winds, the big blue sky, the frozen-white landscape, the nearby ponds covered in decorative swirls of ice, left the impression its needy Alaskan owner might have driven 3,100 miles south to find winter.
Call that venture a success.
The temperature range in Anchorage Monday was a high of 38 – low of 34. Louisville was looking at a high of 22 – a low of 5.
Yet there, off in the distance, walking up from the Floyds Fork bottom was a local couple eager to test our jet stream weather, or at least endure it.
Randy and Sue Keesee – walkers
The stalwarts were Randy and Sue Keesee – just out for another walk. Randy, 70, was wearing white tennis shoes, jeans, sweatshirt, green jacket and black gloves. Sue, 69, was dressed in white tennis shoes, gray sweat pants, a couple of hooded sweat shirts, a blue jacket, a blue cap and pink gloves.
The wind clawed at their faces. The long path they had walked – all of it cleared of snow – snaked off into the distance toward some tall, bare-limbed trees.
The Keesees had miles to go before they could slip back into their car, parked at the far side of the Egg Lawn.
“What,” came a mostly logical question, “are you doing here?”
“Exercise,”explained Sue Keesee,” we walk about four miles a day.”
The Keesees – looking trim and fit – have been married 50 years. Very little keeps them from their five-days-a-week walks – although they did take off last week to babysit the grandkids when school was out.
They live on Seatonville Road; The Parklands of Floyds Fork came to them; they know its paths well.
“They make you get out in nature,” said Sue, “Ken used to hunt and fish a lot when he was younger and it brings back memories.
“We walk in the woods a lot, too, “She said. “It doesn’t seem as cold walking in the woods. We prefer that to walking indoors in the malls.”
Both are eager for the day later this year when the completed Parklands of Floyds Fork will stretch through more such woods all the way to Bardstown Road.
“I can’t wait,” she said.
Monday was a good day to wander the park, to see who and what shows up when the temperature is down. In many ways it’s the best time to walk. The deep-winter walkers and joggers have the Parklands much more to themselves; more time to enjoy the bristly clumps of brown grasses, the red stems of the dogwood shrubs, the arching white limbs of Sycamore trees.
The Egg Lawn seems twice as large when covered in a layer of snow; it’s defining trees without leaves; its pasture-flat surface blending into the borrowed landscape of the snow-covered ridge on the far side of the park.
On Monday morning one man, Ron Hagan, and his dog, “Nadja” – a Great Dane –Shepherd mix – had total run of The Barklands of Beckley Creek Park.
It’s a dog park marked by seven lime-green fire hydrants in a double row outside its front gate, a lineup of whimsy that didn’t include any yellow snow, at least on Monday.
Ron Hagan and Nadja play in a snowy dog park
Hagan, 72, came over and shook hands – happy to be part of Parklands in Winter Story. Nadja is fortunate to be part of the story; she was rescued from an Eastern Kentucky Humane Society kennel one day before she would have been euthanized.
“They were going to kill her,” Hagan said more succinctly.
The story of how the two got together would warm any frozen morning. It began last August with an on-line search, and a roughly 400-mile round trip.
“We were looking for a dog,” said Hagan, “and we saw her. We were going to wait a week to go over, but they said she would be gone by then, so we went over the next day…I think she’s gained about 40 pounds since we got her.”
Hagan has since joined the Louisville Dog Run Association, enabling him to take Nadja to many parks, but Beckley Creek is a favorite.
Their bond is frost-proof. Hagan and Nadja played together like children out of school. They would pretend to rush each other, then back away. Nadja found a bright red ball beneath the surface, then a lime-green tennis ball; a Louisville tennis club dumps them in there on a regular basis.
As Nadja pranced and pawed, Hagan would pick up a tennis ball and toss it. Nadja would dig in, bend forward, then chase it, oblivious to the cold, her surroundings, a timeless tableau that came so close to never happening at all.
Just a little way from the dog park, Parklands Interpretive Ranger Hannah Graham, sitting in her office at the Creekside Center, offered a warm cup of coffee and another instructive winter’s tale.
A while back, on one of the coldest days of the year with schools closed on an even colder morning following eight inches of fresh snow, The Parklands had offered an impromptu education hike to anyone who would show up.
Yeah, right; come hike in our frozen snow.
“I decided,” said Graham, “that I would bundle up and see if anyone showed up.”
Well, guess what? Three families showed up; parents and kids all eager and ready to see the park in winter.
Hannah Graham examines the layers of heat trapped in snow with a local family
First they looked at animal furs and print models kept inside the park building. Then they made footprints of their own in the snow on the way over to the Sycamore Trail along ice-crusted Floyds Fork.
Once there, they checked out the tiny tracks of field mice, the pointy feet of deer headed for a drink and the distinctive tooth marks of beaver gnawing at trees.
“After that we headed back through the snow,” said Graham, “No one was complaining about the cold, we were all feeling refreshed and invigorated.
“The hike that I so dreaded ended up being my favorite part of the week.”
Headed south from the Creekside Center toward the Humana Grand Allee, the landscape suddenly widened; square miles of pure white snow spread out toward distant hills.
Coming toward me were two joggers, a man and a woman, leading – or being led by – two running dogs. The joggers were fashionable dressed; purples, blues and blacks. The dogs wore leashes, although one had gotten well ahead of his handler.
All four creatures were clearly on a mission, much too engrossed in their running to stop and answer a silly question about why they were running.
Two joggers and their pups on the Louisville Loop
But the grateful woman did shout as she ran past: “We are so happy there are clear trails!”
Further down the Humana Grand Allee the sky came into play; long streams of wind-blown airplane contrails hung up over the park, adding another 90 degrees of upward drama; a Montana-sized Big Sky here for the morning.
Wildlife was scarce, startled wood ducks fluttering up from frozen creeks and then two squirrels insisting on playing in the middle of the asphalt road, maybe trying to suck some heat from its black surface.
Further down the road there was a thin layer of snowy ice on park benches, a mixed message of sorts. Over where Taylorsville Road crosses Pope Lick the big, rusted railroad trestle rose up into the bright blue sky looking skinnier than ever, seemingly incapable of carrying trains, although it has for about 120 years.
Pope Lick Train Trestle, view from the Louisville Loop
The fabled Pope Lick Monster was nowhere to be found; perhaps vacationing in Florida. Pope Lick itself was nicely ice-clogged, the little bit of free water gurgling past the bare, frozen limbs of overhanging trees.
The Parklands walking path and roadway come close together here as both wander through woods at water’s edge. Like so many places in the park, it doesn’t quite seem like a traveler is anywhere in Louisville.
Things could be worse, much worse. He could be in balmy Alaska.
About the Author
Former Louisville-Courier columnist Bob Hill is a historian for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. He travels Floyds Fork writing of the people, the places and the history of the stream within the 20-mile park system – all of which is to be preserved in the Filson Historical Society. Some of Hill’s stories appear in A Landscape and its Legacy, the commemorative book for The Parklands of Floyds Fork project. Hill has also compiled a Floyds Fork “Places & Faces” presentation that adds imagery to the words.